Who Has the Most National Championships in College Football?

The real team with the most college football championships hasn't brought home a title in nearly a century. Find out which teams have the most wins and who's considered the all-time champ.
7 min read

Share this Article

Data Summary

  • Check Circle
    Since college football's inception, Yale has gained the most national titles (18). However, within the AP Poll Era, Alabama is considered the top winner with 13 titles.[1]
  • Check Circle
    Alabama has won just under half of the last 13 national titles, winning in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, and 2020.Note Reference [1]
  • Check Circle
    Since 1936, 33 different universities have brought home a national championship in football, and 14 of them have won a championship more than three times.Note Reference [1]
  • Check Circle
    The Southeastern Conference (SEC) has collected 30 titles since 1936, the most championships won by a single conference.Note Reference [1]

In 1869, across the span of eight days, two football games were played between Princeton and Rutgers, marking the first-ever college football season.[2]

More than 150 years later, college football is one of the most popular sports to watch in the U.S.

However, naming a Division I national champ is complicated. It's easy for fans to get trapped in long-winded disagreements over who has the most wins. Here is what we know.Note Reference [2]

Most College Football Championships

When it comes to counting the number of national championships, there are several ways to look at it. But, for the most part, college football fans consider two main classifications: most national championships collected since the sport's inception and most championships since 1936, or the AP Poll era.

Since the Beginning

  • Yale University has received the most national titles in all of college football history, winning 18 since their first in 1874. Their most recent win was nearly a century ago in 1927.[3]
  • Out of the top 10 college football teams with the most national championships, three are Ivy League members.Note Reference [3]
  • The top 10 teams account for 71% of all national titles won in college football.Note Reference [3]
  • Since 1869, only 47 different teams have been crowned as national champions.Note Reference [3]

From 1936 On

Many college football fans consider the start of the AP Poll era to be the true beginning of college football.

  • Since the AP Poll made its debut, Alabama has won the most national championships, with 13 titles.Note Reference [1]
  • Alabama has won just under half of the last 13 national titles, winning in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, and 2020.Note Reference [1]
  • The top five winners have accounted for 42 titles, which is half of all titles received since 1936.Note Reference [1]
  • Six conferences are represented in top national championship recipients, but the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the Big Ten have each earned three titles during the AP Poll era.Note Reference [1]

Other Universities Who Have Won A Championship Since 1936

Beyond the top recipients, plenty of other programs have won a national title.

Other Universities Who Have Won A Championship Since 1936
Two-Time College Football Champions One-Time College Football Champions
  • Pitt: 1936 and 1976
  • Michigan: 1948 and 1997
  • Penn State: 1982 and 1986
  • Army: 1944 and 1945
  • Tennessee: 1951 and 1998
  • Auburn: 1957 and 2010
  • Syracuse: 1959
  • Georgia Tech: 1990
  • TCU: 1938
  • Maryland: 1953
  • Iowa: 1958
  • BYU: 1984
  • UCLA: 1954
  • Washington: 1991
  • Colorado, 1990
  • Ole Miss: 1960
  • Arkansas: 1964
  • Texas A&M: 1939
Source: NCAANote Reference [1]

Did You Know…

Believe it or not, college football did not always end in a postseason.

Between 1936 and 1950, national champions were decided by the Associated Press (AP) Poll, which ranked the top 25 teams from a collection of votes by sports journalists and editors.Note Reference [2]

In 1950, a separate ranking system was developed by all head coaches in the NCAA, known as the Coaches Poll. In 1954, the two polls split for the first time: AP selected Ohio State as the national champion, while the Coaches Poll decided on UCLA.Note Reference [2]

Hence, the fan frustration. In 1998 two teams faced off in a championship match for the first time. Known as the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), it relied on rankings from both AP and Coaches Polls.Note Reference [2]

This methodology lasted until 2014, when the outcry for a multi-team playoff series grew to offset flaws in the ranking systems. Since then, the College Football Playoff (CFP) committee hand-selects four teams to compete for the title and a slew of other teams to compete in Bowl games.Note Reference [2]

What Conference Claims the Most National Championships?

The Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) is composed of 11 different conferences, each of which have between 10 and 14 teams. Here is how each of those conferences have performed in the national championship.

  • In the 1980s and 1990s, the ACC made a big impact, winning 40% of national championships. Since then, the SEC has dominated, winning over 60% of national titles.Note Reference [1]
  • The Southeastern Conference (SEC), home to the Alabama Crimson Tide (13 championships), the LSU Tigers (4 championships), the Florida Gators (3 championships), and other championship winners has collected 30 titles since 1936.Note Reference [1]
  • The SEC also has the most teams to receive a national title (9), followed closely by the Big Ten (8) and the ACC (6).Note Reference [1]
  • Five conferences — the Sun Belt, the Mid-Atlantic Conference, Conference-USA, the Mountain West Conference, and the American Conference — have yet to win a national title.Note Reference [1]
  • FBS Independent is also on the leaderboard with nine titles from Notre Dame, two from Army, and one from Brigham Young University.Note Reference [1]

Who Has the Most Wins in College Football?

Winning the national championship is the highest honor in college football, and having the most wins in history is no small feat. Beyond national titles, these are the teams that have won the most games in the history of the sport, both by total number of wins and by win-percentage.

Highest Win Percentage in College Football

  • Ohio State and Alabama lead the country with the highest percentage of wins, winning just under three-fourths of the games they have played (73.26% and 73.22%). Seven of the top 10 teams have an overall win percentage above 70%.[4]
  • Boise State has one of the highest winning percentages in the country at 72.63%.Note Reference [4]
Who Has the Highest Percentage of Wins?
University Percent of Wins
Ohio State University 73.3%
University of Alabama 73.2%
University of Michigan 73.1%
University of Notre Dame 73.0%
Boise State 72.6%
University of Oklahoma 72.5%
University of Texas 70.1%
University of Southern California 69.6%
Penn State University 68.8%
University of Nebraska 68.1%
Note: These teams have been in Division I for a minimum of 25 years. Bowl and playoff games are included, and tie games are counted as a half win and a half loss. Calculated through the end of the 2022-23 season.
Source: National Collegiate Athletic Association Note Reference [4]

Most Wins in College Football

  • Michigan — which ranks fourth in the country for overall win-percentage — has won the most games in college football. The team with the next-most wins, the Ohio State Buckeyes, trailing by 36.Note Reference [4]
  • Tennessee, a contender in the SEC, does not rank in the top 10 for win-percentage, but does have one of the highest number of wins in the country, with 867 wins to their name.Note Reference [4]
  • Four of the top 11 teams with the highest number of wins are members of the Big Ten (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Nebraska).Note Reference [4]
  • The Georgia Bulldogs, back-to-back champions in 2022 and 2023, have collected 867 wins in the history of their program, tied with the University of Tennessee and the University of Southern California.Note Reference [4]
Who Has the Highest Total Number of Wins?
University Total Number of Wins
University of Michigan 989
Ohio State University 953
University of Alabama 953
University of Notre Dame 938
University of Texas 936
University of Oklahoma 934
Penn State University 920
University of Nebraska 912
University of Southern California 867
University of Tennessee 867
University of Georgia 867
Note: Bowl and playoff games are included, and tie games are counted as a half win and a half loss. These numbers were calculated through the final week of the 2022-2023 season.
Source: NCAANote Reference [4]

College Football Winners Throughout the Decades

  • Alabama has dominated three of the last seven decades by number of wins and two of the last seven decades by percentage of wins.Note Reference [4]
  • Oklahoma has also been a solid contender throughout the decades, racking up most overall wins in one decade and the highest percentage of wins over two decades.Note Reference [4]
  • Marshall, a member of the Sun Belt Conference out of Huntington, West Virginia, rocked the 1990s, accumulating more overall wins than any other football teams in the NCAA.Note Reference [4]
  • Boise State, a current member of the Mountain-West Conference, had the highest number of wins and highest win-percentage in the 2000s, right after joining Division 1A, now known as the FBS, in 1996.Note Reference [4], [5]
Top College Football Team by Decade by Wins and Percent of Wins
Decade Team With Most Wins Team With Highest Win Percentage
1950s University of Oklahoma (93) University of Oklahoma (89.5%)
1960s University of Alabama (85) University of Alabama (86.5%)
1970s University of Alabama (103) University of Oklahoma (87.7%)
1980s University of Nebraska (103) University of Nebraska (83.7%)
1990s Marshall (114) Florida State University (89%)
2000s Boise State (112) Boise State University (86.8%)
2010s University of Alabama (124) University of Alabama (89.2%)
Source: NCAANote Reference [4]

Colleges With Most Wins in a Single Season

  • Yale is the only team in college football history that has won more than 15 games in a single season.[6]
  • Following Clemson University's win over Alabama in the 2019 National Championship, the Tigers became the first team since 1897 to go 15-0 in a single season.Note Reference [6]
  • Six teams have gone 14-0, and another seven have had a 14-1 record.Note Reference [6]
College Football Teams With The Most Wins in a Single Season
University Record Year
Yale 16-0 1894
Clemson 15-0 2018
Penn 15-0 1897
Penn 15-1 1892
Yale 15-1 1889
Georgia 14-0 2023
Florida State 14-0 2013
Auburn 14-0 2010
Boise State 14-0 2009
Alabama 14-0 2009
Ohio State 14-0 2002
Clemson 14-1 2016
Alabama 14-1 2016
Alabama 14-1 2015
Clemson 14-1 2015
Ohio State 14-1 2014
BYU 14-1 1996
Source: National Collegiate Athletic Association Note Reference [6]